Monday, July 16, 2012

Vegetable Tian

I spend a few minutes each day chatting with myself, do you?  My conversations range from things I should have said to questions I would be asked if I were on a radio station.  All quite silly things to be truthful.

With these said conversations I solve many world problems, issues with family and convince myself that I pretty much have all of the answers.  If only someone would ask.  Of course I am joking, I don't have all the answers but sometimes it's fun to pretend that we do.  

On this day, a week ago, I was playing the what if game.  What if I were on a radio show and someone asked me,  "who would you say was your greatest influence in the kitchen?"

I was so quick and on my feet for this pretend interview that I immediately said, "why, my grandmother of course".

This is when the conversation became really fun and active in my head.  I actually had to disagree with myself and somehow I was okay with that.

I stopped the interview, and proceeded to have a quick moment of reflection.  This is what I learned about my influences for my passion of cooking and preparing food.

1.  My grandmother did influence me in the kitchen on many levels, but she was not the ONE influence.  The thing I learned and remember most often, is that when you are making a recipe always put everything away as you use it.  Then when your cookies are made, there is not a huge mess to clean up (hubby please take note).  I realized that my grandmother made the same things for dinners.  She rarely altered the food fare on the table.  Her influence for me was the desire to be in the kitchen and work with my hands.  She made fabulous desserts.

2.  My mother worked and owned a restaurant.  I was influenced by being in the kitchens and smelling the food that was being prepared.  My Mom worked really hard so that her three girls could have the things they needed and wanted.  She taught me to work hard and this has influenced my passion for cooking and writing.  Along the way my Mom has continued to try and learn new recipes, I love this desire to evolve and create.  She has continued to learn new things.

3.  I love to travel.  When we have traveled in the past we visit the museums, the parks, the rides, the tours and the tourist spots of most places we visit.  I have decided that most cities and towns have pretty much the same functions with a few unique places to visit.  The key is finding what makes each of those places unique and different.  I find that this is fondly found in the foods that are served around town.  Food tells a story of the region or location just as much as the people or museums do.  Traveling has had a huge influence on the way that I cook and find inspiration. I often return home from a trip and try to find recipes or develop recipes that remind me of where I had just been.  

4.  My family, health and desire to eat right probably have the greatest influence over how I cook and what I make.  Without my kids I would not have a reason to make big meals, prepare for birthdays,  save recipes, share or teach with them my love for making bread and this list could go on an on.

Getting back to the question, "who would you say was your greatest influence in the kitchen?" I would have to say my family, my love for traveling and my willingness to never stop learning.

It's these influences that influenced this dish.  I did not develop this dish, it has been around for years.  I just had the ingredients on hand, new that my family would love it, saw it on several other blogs, immediately thought of my time spent in France and it was my ever increasing desire to do something new and different that influenced this dish to be made last week.  As my life changes I am sure my influences will too.  I look forward to the adventure ahead.  

This is a simple way to use your veggies from the garden to create a dish with a gourmet flair and appearance.  Using sprigs of fresh herbs adds that special little touch to make your family and friends ooh and ah. 


8-3-2012 This recipe was shared on Amee's Savory Dish: Fit and Fabulous Friday.  Go check out the other amazing and healthy recipes.

Recipe:  Vegetable Tian

yellow squash
1 red onion
minced garlic
fresh herbs, I used thyme from my garden
1/2 cup of cheese, I used Edam.  Cheddar, Jack, Parmesan all can be used too.

Why are there not any ingredient amounts?  Simply because this dish can be made in a 9X13 or as an individual serving.  You decide how big or how much you want to make and that will determine what you will need to have on hand.

For me, I did one of each (except for the tomato, I had two).  This was prepared in a 7X10 tian (shallow ceramic baking dish).

Preheat your oven to 375. 

Cut your veggies.  I used a mandolin and this is how I was able to achieve the consistency in width for each veggie.

Saute your chopped onion and minced garlic in olive oil.

In the bottom of your baking dish, spread the onion/garlic mixture.  Start stacking your veggies and then laying them in rows in your dish.  You can pack them tight if you want, they do reduce and shrink a bit when cooked.

Season with salt, pepper and olive oil.  I added 4 sprigs of thyme.  Cover with foil and bake until done.  Mine took 40 minutes to cook.  It was all based on the potatoes (they took the longest to cook).  When they were done, I removed the foil and added some cheese.

Without cheese.

With cheese.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Maryland Crab Dip with Breadsticks

Crab dip for a party, without the added browned butter crab.

One of the joys of living in Maryland is the crab.  I cannot tell a lie and this is a glorious feature for me. 

I simply love Maryland Blue Crabs.

I have family and friends that ask me to compare our crab to theirs (dungeness on the West Coast) and it's hard for me to even compare. 

Blue crabs are a bit sweeter and I believe the texture of the meat is softer as well.  You don't need butter or seasonings to indulge in the pieces that you pick.

Blue crabs come in a variety of sizes, male or female and are available everywhere in my community. 

You will find them in baskets being sold out of the back of trucks, sold at restaurants by the dozen and half dozen or, and this is awesome, you can simply go out your back door, drop a trap and will have a few crabs to eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  

Yes, I did say breakfast.  When you love crab as I do, there is never a bad time to eat crab.  LOL

I eat crab picked fresh from their warm shells, in soup, in crab cakes, dips, soups, raviolis and even a few pieces added to the top of a Bloody Mary.  We DO know how to partake of crab in Annapolis.

This dip was prepared on Saturday for a group of friends that meet once in a while to celebrate, cook and enjoy the company of other chefs, culinary specialist and friends.  We simply love food.

I wanted to get adventurous with my recipe but I stayed true to the course and presented a simple version of my dish.  This changed when I returned home, I chose to add a gourmet flair.  You will find the recipe below and I will share with you the two versions.  

I also experimented with adding Old Bay Seasoning to my breadsticks.  I found the seasoning on the breadsticks to add a lot of flavor to the dip.

I hope that you will enjoy this simple yet gourmet way of eating Maryland Blue Crabs.

Individual size portion with the brown butter crab.

Recipe:  Maryland Blue Crab Dip

1 lb of crabmeat
2 (8oz) pkg. of cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce
2 teaspoon of Old Bay Seasoning, feel free to add more if this is a flavor you want to be strong
1/2 cup of mayonnaise
1/2 cup of shredded cheese, for inside the dip (I used sharp cheddar but you can also use mild)
3/4 cup of sour cream
1/4 cup of finely chopped green onions, tops only
shredded cheese for topping

To add the brown buttered crab topping:

1 cup of crabmeat
3 T. of butter

NOTE:  As with any shell fish, make sure to run your fingers through the meat to make sure there are  not any shells.  To find a shell freaks some people out…LOL

Preheat oven to 350.

In a medium bowl, add cream cheese, mayo and sour cream.  Using an electric mixer, whip the three together for two minutes until smooth.  Add the Worcestershire Sauce and Old Bay.  Blend until smooth and well combined.

Fold in the crabmeat, cheese and green onions.

Using a pie dish, rectangle pan or stone ware, add your dip.  The smaller the pan the deeper the dip and the longer it will take to warm up.  I use a small rectangular pan that measures 6X9.  I also make individual portions in ramekins.  It just depends on the party and amount of guest I have.

Add a sprinkle of cheese and a few green onions.

Bake dip for 30 minutes, or until sides are bubbly and the cheese starts to brown.  Individual size ramekins will require their cook time to be less, 15 minutes.

To add the brown butter crab:

Right before the dip comes out of the oven, 5 minutes before hand.  Melt your butter in a small pan and brown the butter.  Stir and watch it carefully so that it does not burn.

When the butter is browned, turn off the heat and add the 1 cup of crab.  Toss gently and remove from heat.

Remove the dip(s) from the oven and gently spoon the brown butter crab on top.  I garnished my dip with a few green onions.

Serve warm with crackers, fresh bread or breadsticks (recipe below).

Recipe:  Old Bay Seasoning Breadsticks

5 cups of flour
2 tablespoons of dry yeast
1 tablespoon of sugar
2 cups of warm water
1 tablespoon of salt

1 stick of soft butter
Old Bay Seasoning
Parsley flakes

Preheat oven to 425.

While oven is preheating, find a cookie sheet and add the stick of butter.  Set aside.

In your Kitchenaid with the dough hook, add the flour and salt.

In a two cup glass bowl, add the warm water, sugar and yeast.  Let yeast activate.  3-5 minutes.

Add yeast to flour.

Turn on mixer and let the two combine.  Set timer for 5 minutes and let the kitchenaid knead your dough for the 5 minutes.

Cover dough for 15 minutes while it rest.

5 minutes  before dough is done resting, add the cookie sheet to the oven so that the butter melts and starts to brown.  Use the middle rack in your oven.

Spray an area on your counter or table with Pam and roll dough out to a bit less than 1 inch thickness.  I try to roll the dough the length of my cookie sheet, not as wide because as you pick up the sticks they tend to stretch.

Remove your cookie sheet from the oven, sprinkle Old Bay on to the butter and bring to your work space.  After you have rolled the dough out, use a pizza cutter and cut into strips.

Pick up each strip and roll in the warm butter and bay seasoning.  Line them up close to each other.

Because the pan and butter are both hot, the dough will start to rise before your eyes.

Sprinkle the breadsticks with more Old Bay, Kosher salt and Parsley Flakes (this is a personal choice as to how much you want to add).

Let rise for 5 minutes and return to the oven to bake.

Bake breadsticks for 8-12 minutes.  Watch them towards the end.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

Seasoned Chicken Breast

Some days you just don't want to cook, or maybe that is just me.  I wake up in the morning knowing that I have a few pieces of meat thawed in the fridge.  

I try to rub two brain cells together and come up with a fun, creative and new way of eating the same piece of meat I have been buying for 30 years.

Then, it hits me.  It's okay to make it simple and stick with what has worked in the past.

This is that dish I always fall back on.  WHY?

It's easy and can be used in many ways.  I have used this chicken in casseroles, in tacos, with pasta or served over a beautiful salad.  

I rarely change it up and stick with the same recipe every time.  That is a big deal in my world..LOL

This is not fancy but it's functional.  When your day is busy or your family is in and out, they can easily reach for a chicken breast or grab a cup of diced chicken pieces.

A simple piece of chicken can easily make any meal feel gourmet,  and without too much effort.

Recipe:  Seasoned Chicken Breast

3-4 Chicken Breast, boneless
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 an onion, sliced
1/4 cup of diced green onions
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
Lawry's Seasoned Salt 

Find a pan that is large enough to hold your chicken breast.  Add oil.

I like my temperature to be set to medium and allow the pan and oil to heat up.  I use a stainless steel pan and the heat is an important aspect of cooking so that the meat does not stick.

Add your chicken breast, onions, garlic and spices.  Cook until the chicken releases easily when moved with a fork. (picture below)

Turn over the breast and re-season with salt, pepper and Lawry's Seasoned Salt. (picture below)

The total cooking time takes 12-15 minutes for a chicken breast that is less than an inch thick.

Before removing from the pan, check to make sure the chicken is fully cooked.  I usually cut a small slit in the back and spread with a knife and fork.  

Remove chicken to a plate and serve with pasta and sauce, over a green salad or as the filling for a taco.

The leftover onion, garlic and spices in the pan can be turned into a gravy by adding some flour and milk OR a nice wine to make a reduction.  

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

162. Homemade Salsa or pico de gallo

Is it salsa or pico de gallo?  I actually used the same recipe and made both.

One version is chunky, hence the pico de gallo title and the other is blended, hence the salsa name.

I like this tidbit that I found about pico de gallo,

"The term "pico de gallo" is Spanish for "beak of rooster". According to food writer Sharon Tyler Herbst,[1] it is so called because originally it was eaten with the thumb and forefinger, and retrieving and eating the condiment resembled the actions of a pecking rooster."

My family loves homemade guacamole, salsa's and dips.  

I had a special request to make this for our upcoming outing for the 4th of July.  The recipe is a no brainer if you have made this before.  It has basic ingredients and you adjust the temperature with more or less jalapeno.

You can make it more unique by adding mango, pineapple, cucumber, cumin or jicama.  

Recipe:  Salsa/Pico de Gallo

4 cups of tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup of diced red onion
2 jalapeno's, no seeds and diced very small (seeds add heat..if you want that, then leave them in)
1/2 lemon, squeezed
1 T. minced cilantro or more
1 T. minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste

NOTE:  Fresh jalapeno's vary on heat.  I have had 10 jalapeno's and 9 were not hot but the one was like eating fire.  I recommend sampling your raw jalapeno before adding it to your salsa to verify how hot your salsa will be.  You can also use jalapeno's from a jar.  

Dice the tomatoes into small squares.  I usually leave the seeds and soft pulp out of my salsa.

Dice the onion and jalapeno's.  Mince the cilantro.  Add more cilantro if this is a flavor that you love.

In a medium size bowl, combine all ingredients.  Taste.  Adjust. Taste

Part of making a recipe is sampling the food.  You will want to make sure the salt/acid levels in your salsa meet the expectation of your taste pallet.  If you need more acid, add a bit more lemon.  Needs more salt, add more salt. Spicier?  Add more jalapeno.  

I usually take my mixture and put half in the blender to make it into my salsa.  My family likes this best with their chips because the chips don't break.


Monday, July 2, 2012

161. Fajita Salads and a Family Visit

If you live in the east, then you already know that it is hotter than hot…and that is pretty hot!
I have seen the temperature this week rise to 110 with the heat index and felt like I could not breathe outside.  I have not felt that way since my time in Nevada when I was a teenager.  That was a pretty scary feeling.

I am grateful for my grill outside.  This is something that over the past year I am finding myself using more and more, in fact we use it all year round.  I can do that in Maryland (another reason I love it here).

I usually do not buy pre-made spice packets because I already have so many individual spices at home.  On this day I wanted fajita's and threw my own mix together.  My family loved it and this salad was a hit, along with the salsa.  ENJOY!

Recipe:  Fajita Salads

To make meat:

1.5 pounds of top sirloin steak
1 red onion, sliced in half
2 bell peppers, cut in half with seeds removed

To make Fajita Spice, I used 1 teaspoon of each:  garlic powder, onion powder, salt, smoked paprika, cumin and chili powder and a 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.  Mix well.

Season the steak on both sides with liberal amounts of spice mix.  Have your grill temperature get to about 400 degrees. 

Add meat and veggies to the grill.  You can use a veggie basket so that the onion does not go through your grill grid.  Cook until charred on all sides.

Grill steak on both sides until meat is medium rare.  Depending on thickness of your meat, this will take about 10-12 minutes.  I recommend using a meat thermometer or checking the meat so that you do not over cook your steak.

Take meat off of the grill, cover and let rest while you prepare the onion/bell peppers.

Take the onion and bell pepper and slice into strips.  Add olive oil to a saute pan and continue to brown the mix.  The onion and bell pepper should start to caramelize and turn brown.  Remove from heat.

Slice meat into thin strips.  I used a platter to first add the bell pepper/ onion mix and topped it with the meat.

Prepare your salad.  I used spinach and lettuce.  I also served sour cream, salsa, jalapeno's and ranch for those that would like additional condiments.  

You can add your favorite veggies to make this salad suit your families taste buds.

If you would like to see pictures from my visit with my family, see below.  It was a whirlwind two weeks, 6 state visit and a ton of fun.

My sister and I took a bicycle ride through the diamond district.  This was the best!  We screamed and laughed the whole way.  The driver was amazing.  We would come within inches of cars and people and he never had an accident.  I will never forget this ride.

The carriage ride through Central Park was so much fun.  It was a great way for my family to see a bit of the park and to learn some history too.

We found the Naked Cowboy right off the bat.  It was fun to see this icon of NYC.  He is wearing underwear, it is just hidden behind the guitar.

Rye and I on the carriage ride.
My Mom and Sisters first time to Time Square.

Sailing on the Chesapeake Bay.

A man at the Irish Festival in Annapolis.  Cute head!

Trip to DC…the white house in the back ground.

Amish carriage ride through the hillside in Intercourse, PA.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Creamy Rice and Veggie Casserole

When I say we eat a 25 pound of rice about every 3 months, I am not lying.  My family loves rice.  We have brown, white, flat, short, long, black, red, Japanese, Basmati and Jasmine.  The only one we don't use or own is INSTANT.  LOL

We just don't like the flavor of instant.  I own a rice cooker and if I plan my meals right I have no problem getting the rice done on time.

We eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner and on occasion, as a snack too.

I joke with my kids that when they go to college they will get three things: a rice cooker, a blender and a Nu Wave oven.

There are over 40,000 different varieties of rice.  If you would like to learn more about rice, this is a great place to start.  HERE.

My daughter loves to make rice and one thing we need to work on is portions…LOL  When she makes a batch it is always the largest that can be made with our rice cooker.  We usually eat it all in a few days, but I personally like fresh rice better and not the rice that has been sitting in the fridge for a day or two.

What if you do have rice that is a day or two old?  I hate to waste food.  It makes me crazy when so many people in the world have so little.

In walks Creamy Rice and Veggie Casserole.  This not only uses your left over rice, but you can use your left over vegetables and cheese (if you like).

I will tell you what I used in my recipe.  If you change any of the veggies or cheese, just keep in mind that the flavor will be changed a bit too.  If you use those things you love then that should not bother you.  Be sure to let me know if you added your own twist to the dish.  It would work great to add some chicken to the casserole and make it a one dish "rock the house" meal.

This is a simple meal.  That has the taste of a gourmet dish.  ENJOY!

Recipe:  Creamy Rice and Veggie Casserole

4 cups of prepared white rice  (if you use brown rice it will have a nutty flavor)
2 cups of vegetables (I used: leeks, carrots, onions and red bell pepper)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups of milk
1/2 stick of butter
1/4 cup of flour
1 brick of cream cheese, soft
3/4  cup of cheddar cheese or 1 jar of Old English Cheddar Cheese

Preheat oven to 350.

Prepare your rice or use your left over rice from a previous meal.

Thinly slice and dice your veggies to make 2 cups.  Saute the veggies in a saute pan with the olive oil.

In a medium size pot, add butter and melt.  Sprinkle flour over butter and whisk for 2 minutes.  Add your milk and cook until thick, stir often.  Remove from heat and add cream cheese and cheddar. Stir until the cheese is well combined.

If you would like to add meat to this dish, go ahead and prepare your meat.  Add this to the mixture.

In a large bowl, combine sauce, rice and veggies.  Stir well and pour into a baking dish.  I used an 8X12 baking dish, so if you use a 9X13 reduce cooking time by a few minutes.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Friday, June 8, 2012

My "Everything" Chocolate Chip Cookie

What I love about cookies, is they are a lot like people, they come in every shape and size.  The types of cookies, flavors, textures and sizes are too many to number.

I believe there is truly a cookie for everyone.

This cookie is something that has evolved over the years.  The reason I love the basic recipe is because the cookie is soft and plump. It has some substance to it, a three to four bite cookie.

The secret ingredient is bacon.  I know it sounds strange but it totally makes this cookie.

My son, the other day said to me as were getting into the car, "wow, that bacon cookie is the best."

My Mom made the cookies for a church event last weekend and lets just say that after the cookies were made they didn't make it to the church.  LOL

You can find a lot more of these types of recipes here at The Chocolate Chip Cookie Challenge being hosted by 52 Kitchen Adventures.  It all starts on August 15, 2012.

Recipe:  The Everything Cookie, makes about 24 cookies depending on size of cookie scoop

3 3/4 cups of cake flour
2 tablespoons of corn starch
1 teaspoon of salt (if you use salted butter, reduce this to 1/2 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks of cold butter
1 1/4 cups of packed brown sugar
1/2 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup of buttermilk
2 large eggs, room temperature

6-8 pieces of cooked bacon, diced
1/2 cup of toffee bites
1/4 cup of pecans or almonds
1 cup of chocolate chips, I used semi sweet.

Your options may also include: coconut or dried fruit. Let your imagination guide your "everything" cookie.

With this recipe I did not use my Kitchenaid because I did not want to over work the cookie dough.  This was all done by hand.

Preheat oven to 375.

Fry up your bacon.  I found the bacon that is not super crispy works best.  Set aside to cool until you are ready to add it to your dough.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder and baking soda.

Grate your two sticks of cold butter into a medium size bowl. Add your sugars and combine until just blended.  You should see pieces of butter.

Add the vanilla, two eggs and buttermilk.  Do not over blend.  Mix until well combined.

Start adding the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture.  The dough should be moist and not dry.

Add: bacon, nuts, toffee bits and chocolate chips.  Mix until combined.

Using a large cookie scoop, place the cookies 2 inches apart on the cookie tray.

Bake for 15-18 minutes.  This depends on your oven.  They should be light to golden brown.

Transfer to a cookie rack and let cool.

Donut Breakfast Casserole

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